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Dumb question: mini-PCs with external drives (eSATA?) - how?


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Hi all,


I'm thinking of upgrading my unRaid server (which is a 2U system that's a little slow and very power hungry). There are lots of mini-PC builds (this is a high-end example of one) that seem to have good specs and use low power, as well as have enough SATA ports for my needs (1 cache, 1 parity, 2 drives).


However, most of the mini PC cases don't have space for lots of drives (obviously). How would I go about actually using the SATA ports, then?


If I had an external eSATA dock like this, could I connect it somehow? Could I use the on-board SATA port(s) and pass through a cable, or would I need an HBA (?)/RAID card instead and using a PCI-e card (with riser)? I also understand that not all motherboards support acting as a SATA port multiplier too - but not sure exactly what that impacts.


Is this a terrible idea in the first place?


Any advice appreciated.





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Generally, I'd say avoid them.


eSata port multipliers don't always have the greatest support on the motherboard / add-in cards, and you may also run into performance issues especially during parity checks if you fully populate the enclosure, as you're trying to funnel all that bandwidth for the 5 drives through a single eSata connection.

48 minutes ago, atl-far-east said:

Could I use the on-board SATA port(s) and pass through a cable,

Yes, SATA to eSata cables are easily found.

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33 minutes ago, atl-far-east said:

Any other good procedure for that connection?

I would definitely avoid hammering in a rail-way spike into the case to make the hole


33 minutes ago, atl-far-east said:

Any advice on an external chassis without needing a port multiplier?

Not my area of expertise.

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Scroll though this list for a visual idea:




I've seen ones with 6 before in a full height single-width.  When it comes to storage, my preference is to stay away from anything external, especially esata for a few reasons:

  • Separate power supplies, more points of failure
  • Not a robust connection (either damage or temporary disconnects)
  • cables are typically stiff and things may not sit nicely

Everyone has their preferences however.  For temporary stuff USB 3.0+ seems to be fairly reliable, as in to just copy data off a disk.  Most notably if the drives are small and can be powered directly off the USB port safely.  System performance can take a hit however.  Typically when you're looking at adding external drives as part of your array your cost/power consumption/cabling, and in some cases overall volume/size goes up more than you may expect.  I wouldn't recommend planning a build with anything dangling on the outside except for maybe a USB NIC or similar (I think Aquantia has 2.5/5G Base-T USB 3.0/3.1 versions coming soon, will be interesting if they end up being supported).

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Small PCs are not neccessarily the cheapest / most cost efficient, but if you really want to use a mini PC like that, you probably could add these:



and one sff-8088 cable.

This is not a recommendation to get these parts - I just googled them up so you can see how they can go together.


I am currently using:

Cooler Master 110 Mini ITX case

ASRock Z270M-ITX/ac

LSI 9206-16e

SFF-8644 to SFF8088 cables

Areca 4036 (SAS/SATA JBOD Enclosure) https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1001223-REG/areca_arc_4036_8_bay_sas_enclosure.html


Other than my cache drive and appdata SSD, everything is in the enclosure so my array fails as a single device in case of power issues or cable issues.

The HBA and enclosure did not come cheap when I got them a few years back. 

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